I know I am getting older. Most days I don’t feel it, but there are markers in my life that remind me that the years are passing by. One of those markers is being asked to witness a marriage. It began for me a little over 12 years ago and I recently witnessed my 15th wedding, which happened to be my son and his fiancée, now wife. But more about that later.
As we know, most marriages are presided over by the parish priest. And we deacons are typically asked when we have a personal relationship with the couple. I find myself solidly in the age demographic where friends of my children, children of my friends, nephews, nieces, and even my own children are getting married and asking me to witness their vows. I have witnessed marriages in five states, within Mass, outside of Mass. and even outside of the church with special permission.
Of all my diaconate duties and functions I have come to find this ministry one of the most rewarding on a number of levels. First of all, who doesn’t love weddings? And so, to be asked to participate in a special way in a couple’s life at the beginning of their sacramental life together is a joy and a blessing that I never could have imagined until I actually did it.
Beginning with the marriage prep, whether it’s the PMI (Pre-Marriage Inventory) or the Prepare & Enrich couples program, I take great joy in sharing my life and experience as a married man with them. And most have shared with me that I bring a level of experience and credibility to the discussion of what it means to be a Catholic married man or woman. And I find our conversations always take me back to my own wedding and married life. In fact, I most often conduct the PMI at our home, which is a comfortable atmosphere for them. And while I meet with the bride and groom one at a time, my wife Ellen will meet with the other and talk about any and all things wedding.
The wedding ceremony is the culmination and high point of all the planning (sacramental and otherwise) that has taken place. And my role tends to become multi-faceted. Of course, I serve as the Church’s (and state’s) official witness, but I often take on the additional roles of wedding planner, florist, and furniture mover. Perhaps most importantly I try to the calming influence for two often very nervous young adults. I smile a lot during the ceremony with the hope that they smile back. I share with them the advice that I received on my wedding day. “Relax, enjoy and be present in every moment. It is so easy for the day to become one big blur.”
As I witness the vows and ask the couples to repeat after me (none of the couples I have married has ever attempted to memorize them!) I am reminded again of my own wedding, when those very same words coming from my mouth were my own personal commitment to Ellen. That too brings a smile to my face. But I am especially cognizant of the now grown up woman and man standing before me. In most cases, I have known at least one of these “kids” since they were little. And now, here they are as adults publicly professing their love for one another before God and his Church. What a blessing and privilege it is to be part of that.
Here’s the part where I come back to my son’s wedding. As much as I try to assume a posture of distance and calm, I never imagined that hearing my son profess his marriage vows would have had such an emotional effect on me. Not weepy emotion (although my eyes did get teary) but heartfelt emotion. In the deepest recesses of my heart, I found myself giving thanks for my own marriage vocation and for my life with Ellen, through which we both played a part in bringing him to this moment and place. It was a pride and joy that I cannot adequately express in words, but one to which I’m sure any of my brother deacons who have experienced the same thing can attest. My prayers and best wishes for him and his wife were no different than those for any other couple, but I must confess that they were more special.
I am happy to say that all 15 couples whose vows I have witnessed are still happily married, most with young families. It’s an accomplishment that gives me great pleasure but for which I take no credit. It is one that I don’t take for granted either. As a married man, I know well the difficulties that marriages can face, especially at this time in our society. In my homily, I always remind the couple (and all married couples in attendance) that by their desire to receive the sacrament of matrimony, that they have invited Christ to their wedding. I encourage them to invite him also to their marriage. I can only hope and pray that these couples have taken those words to heart.
Ellen and I collect nativities. We bought our first one in our very first year of marriage, and we now have close to 75 (it hasn’t been one a year for those of you doing the math. I’m old, but not that old!). It has become a tradition for us. And we now give each couple that I marry a “starter” nativity as a wedding gift. As they now begin their own marriage and family traditions, it’s a way, we tell them, of expressing our ongoing love for them and our desire to continue to share in some small, personal way in their married life, if only once a year.
As I look ahead I see that same marker of being asked to witness marriage vows now reminding me that I am aging out of that very demographic. I am most definitely am getting older. My marrying pool is dwindling. My kids’ friends, my friends’ kids, and that generation of our family are now mostly married. There are only a few left. But I take hope that this special ministry is not ending for me. As a deacon in Campus Ministry at Fairfield University, I engage daily with young college students. Who knows that someday one of them might ask me to witness his or her marriage vows?
There is no such thing as a perfect marriage. I don’t know any and am convinced that one does not exist. Every married couple experiences their share of joys and sorrows, their measure of successes and disappointments. I speak from experience. While Ellen’s and my marriage may not be perfect, it has been truly blessed. And so as I witness the vows of these young couples I ask blessings on them. I pray that their marriage sustains and prosper, as mine has. I pray that it will never stop growing in love for one another, as mine has. I pray that their marriage not only survives but thrive, as mine has. And so, in a way, I’m praying that by those words “repeat after me” that their marriage might be as greatly blessed as mine.
By: Deacon Tom Curran
Are you being called to be a Deacon? Join us for our monthly Diaconate Discovery Evenings, the space to wonder, explore, share and come to an understanding about these and any other questions that you may have regarding serving the Church as a Permanent Deacon.
The next Diaconate Discovery Evening will take place at St. Marguerite Parish, 138 Candlewood Lake Rd., Brookfield on Thursday, March 14, 2019 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm.